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Technology leaps ahead with bionic prosthetic leg

August 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The "Six Million Dollar Man" may have been a fictional television show, but it continues to inspire scientists. A Los Angeles man has become one of the first to be fitted with a bionic leg. The new technology is changing his life.

Conventional prosthetic legs may be light and agile, but those who use them say they still feel like artificial limbs. This new bionic leg contains "artificial" intelligence. When scientists built this one, they wanted to create a leg that could think.

Los Angeles resident John Siciliano, 40, is the closest we have to Steve Austin. He lost his right leg above his knee in a car accident 18 years ago. His news prosthetic leg acts almost like a natural one.

"The first knee that can react and basically move as the patient moves," said Phil Conley, Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics.

The Genium leg contains multiple microprocessors, an accelerometer and a gyroscope. It can climb stairs step over step and walk smoothly through any type of terrain.

"It's thinking for me. It just knows where my body is in space," said Siciliano.

It's similar to the technology used in interactive video games.

"It's similar to Wii technology, that's how we kind of simplify it. It's a three-dimensional proprioceptive device that knows if John lifts his leg up in the air to step up a step," said Conley.

The battery allows the device to stay charged for five days. A Bluetooth remote allows the user to program the leg for skiing, skating, even snowboarding.

"This just added a whole other level to my game," said Siciliano.

The entire bionic Genium package runs about $95,000, so many amputees feel it might as well be $6 million. Siciliano is hoping insurance companies will soon come around.

"It is a high-dollar piece of equipment," said Siciliano. "But can you really put a price on your leg? People say, 'Oh that's so expensive.' It's my leg. It's my leg -- I need my leg to live.'"

Siciliano hopes other amputees who are active like him can experience what the Genium feels like.

Otto Bock HealthCare partnered with the U.S. military to develop the bionic leg.

Hanger Prosthetics handled the evaluation and testing of the device on amputees.

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